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The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding
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The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  5,546 ratings  ·  298 reviews
The history of the birth of Australia which came out of the suffering and brutality of England's infamous convict transportation system. With 16 pages of illustrations and 3 maps.

One of the greatest non-fiction books I've ever read . . . Hughes brings us an entire world. --Los Angeles Times
Hardcover, 688 pages
Published February 12th 1988 by Vintage (first published 1986)
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This is a book I’ve been meaning to get to for years. I listened to this as an audio book, but about half way through it became very clear that I was going to need to buy the damn thing.

Kids in Australian schools – both when I was growing up and also now from talking to my daughters – tend to learn basically bugger all about Australian History. You know, kids are told something about Captain Cook, maybe a bit about the fact that there were convicts (although generally they are told these were m
I'm not quite done with Robert Hughes's excellent history of The System, otherwise known as the settlement of a continent with petty criminals, but since I'm actually going to Australia in a week (!), and I can see the writing on the wall as far as things getting crazier before I leave, I wanted to be sure to sneak in a blog entry now. More specifically, I wanted to recommend this book highly; despite the often brutal facts of the case, I have seldom enjoyed a history more.

ANYway, Hughes's prose
Here's another thing about Australia. It has its priorities right. So, when I heard Greece is in some trouble, the consequences of which might destablise the world economy, I went to to check it out.

Not a WORD about Greece. Honestly, I don't see what all the fuss is about. The really top world news stories are:

Lleyton Hewitt out of Wimbledon
A person who was born in Australia (ie tenuous connection, but we still want him) has made the NBA draft.
Cocaine still popular in the US

and the real
As an Australian, I have to say 'hats off' truly to Robert Hughes. This is a tremendously exhaustive and amazing work in which Hughes manages to trace the history of Australia in scrupulous detail. In fact, there's almost 'too much' detail but for me, I just lapped it up. Much of the details about indentured men were new to me. This should, without a doubt, be required reading in history classes in Australia. Absolutely fantastic. In fact, I learnt more by reading this book than I did from 2 yea ...more
Jill Hutchinson
An amazing book!!!! This 600 page tome covers the founding of Australia from the First Fleet of the transportation of convicts landing at Botany Bay through the end of the transportation in 1868. The continent of Australia was an enormous jail and the author uses letters, diaries, and other written history to paint a picture of inhumanity that reads more like fiction. As he spins his tale, he destroys some of the myths that Australians still accept as truths and verifies others through his impec ...more

Absolutely a masterpiece. Hughes really tackles every aspect of the founding of Australia, which is more interesting than you might think, if you're not exactly packing for Sydney any time soon.

When eminences like Susan Sontag, Arthur Schlesinger and Gore Vidal plug your book with comparisons to some of the greatest social chroniclers of all time, you know (or hope, at least) you're into something great. I wasn't disappointed.

Hughes brings up nearly everything which contributed to Australia's f
Great book on the founding of Australia and the convict colonies. Also, it had the added bonus of allowing me to act confused when New Zealanders informed that Australia and New Zealand were not the same thing.
I find that Robert Hughes writing is, well, florid. He writes well but he is just too adjectival for my tastes.
As a big slice of information and ideas this is a good book but not a great book. I would have no hesitation about recommending it, but there are better books such as John Hirst's book 'Convict Society And It's Enemies'.
Hughes analysis is pretty good and I do find that even though I thought I knew how grim the early period of European Australian history was, I was not prepared for the
I've never known very much about Transportation or the early history of Australia, and now I wish I'd paid more attention when I was at school over there. Obviously growing up English I was fully aware of the history between the two countries and the insults flung back and forth - 'Pommies', 'convicts' and the like, but there never was any real understanding of the history of those insults.

So it's interesting to see just how deeply rooted Transportation, or the 'System' as it was known, was in A
Amazing book. I'm always on the lookout for well-written histories, and this one kept surfacing in various lists and blogs and amazon searches. So when I stumbled on it at our local used bookstore, I decided to try it. Hughes' history of colonial Australia is gut-wrenching, exhausting, and superbly written. I don't know what's more astounding--the fact that Britain transported so many convicts 14,000 miles around the world to this remote continent they hadn't even mapped or explored, or that the ...more
Erik Graff
May 24, 2013 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anglo-Americans or -Australians
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
I read this along with books by Alan Moorehead in order to better understand some friends from Australia and the peoples and history of the SW Pacific region in which my father had served during WWII.

This particular book is very well written and serves as a painless introduction to the history of modern Australia. The writer, primarily known as an art critic, is a master of descriptive prose.
This book explains a lot about Australian culture - why it's so anti-authority, why 'mates time' is so strong, why going slow on the job is seen as OK, why racism is so ingrained, why having a trade and being skilled is so explains why being an 'Australian' was important as opposed to being 'British' and how early settlers conquered the bush and built towns on the backs of convict labour. Early traders to Australia sold their goods at exorbitant prices as there was no competition ...more
La povertà non è un fatto naturale, diceva Mandela, è creata dall’uomo, e l’uomo può mettervi fine.

Gli inglesi della fine del Settecento e dell’inizio dell’Ottocento prendevano alla lettera questa massima, e agivano in base al seguente principio: la povertà non è un fatto naturale, se sei povero è colpa tua - due volte colpa tua, perché vuol dire che non vuoi diventare ricco.
Se nel tuo stato di povertà commetti un crimine, per esempio attenti alla mia proprietà, anch
Paul Briggs
This is one of the great ones. The Fatal Shore excels both at describing what happened and capturing what it was like.

Every stage in the history of the Australian penal system, from the first explorations and Parliamentary debates to the collapse of "the System" amid the gold rush, is described in detail. The people who make the decisions — the reformers, the experimenters, the sadistic, the apathetic and those who were simply promoted beyond their level of competence — come alive as characters.
Dave Gaston
An aptly named epic, pulling the reader through the bile and brutal details of the founding of Australia as a penal colony. Hughes’s magnificent story telling hustles down the ages; the land and sea, the politics, the traditions — the very roots of the Aussie people. At every turn, the reader shakes his head in wild disbelief. The book, and the continent, stand as a testament to man’s primal instincts (selfish and noble) to survive and flourish at all cost — as in the story of a convict escape i ...more
'Aussie Rick'

This is a great book, one of the finest history books I have read covering Australia. I found the book easy to read, the narrative flowed along full of facts but never dull. Its not stuffy and boring like a lot of history books but a very good yarn. I have sent copies to friends around the world and they have all enjoyed the book as well. Its history at its best, some very interesting stories about Norfolk Island and Port Arthur and cannibal convicts, a very enjoyable tale. Maybe some Australian
Carol Preston
This is disturbing, compelling and fascinating reading. A must read for all those interested in knowing more about the incredibly cruel and complex first 100 years of white Australia. It's an especially provocative reflection on the issue of punishment versus reform or rehabilitation, and also a great expose of the destructive force of power in the wrong hands.
Australia is a huge, epic, and often harsh land. This book is also huge, epic, and sometimes hard to read. Not because it's badly written--just the opposite; Robert Hughes is a master of the English language and uses it to full effect on every page--but because of the harshness of the subject matter: the transportation of criminals from Georgian and Victorian England to Australia in the late 18th and 19th Centuries, and how a string of penal colonies gradually became a nation (and how their crim ...more
Thomas Ullman
It's a heck of a read but then again it's a heck of a story. There are not many nations that can date themselves to a single day in history but 'European' Australia can.

Robert Hughes describes the conditions and politics of 1700's Britain and Ireland and how the loss of the American colonies led to the decision to ship convicts on a six month voyage to Australia. He tells of how the convicts and the military who accompanied them survived. He describes their effect upon the native population whom
History of the founding of the Australian colony on a grand scale. Tells of the absolutely terrifying conditions and utter cruelty which prevailed for only too long.
Helen Hanschell Pollock
Excellent and not sanitised history uncovers the sad misunderstandings of the aborigines' lifestyle and communication. Typical of how the Brits messed up the territories they laid claim to and left civil war and slavery in their wake and lied with their propaganda. Read it.
ITV in UK has just shown 'Utopia'
John Crace wrote 20th December 2013 in the Guardian newspaper
"In 1985, Australian journalist John Pilger made The Secret Country, a film about his homeland's mistreatment of its indigenous peop
David B
Robert Hughes has written a towering account of the years during which Britain transported convicts to Australia, thereby beginning the colonization of a continent that would one day hold a place among the world's free nations. Hughes's fascinating text covers the exaggerated fear of a "criminal class" that, along with hopes of establishing a colonial presence in the region, caused England to spend so much treasure on the system of transportation. We also get much fascinating information about t ...more
Mike Histand
This was a tour de force on the part of Hughes. It is an exhaustive and exhausting chronicle of the period 1788-1858 when the "transportation" of criminals from Briton to Australia occurred. The brutality as described by first hand reports is overwhelming. I have a much better perspective on the populating of Australia, the demise of the aborigines, the type of people who were transported (not particularly petty criminals), role of VanDiemans Land and Norfolk Island, and the developing attitude ...more
With the paltry amount of popular history books I have read, I'm hard pressed to think of one better than Hughes' The Fatal Shore. What Hughes has done here is, in lavish detail and in a humane voice, given us the bizarre and violent tale of the founding of a remote British penal colony. Some of the accounts of cruelty, of madness, of pain and survival are so wild that I simply wouldn't believe them if I didn't know them to be true. Australia (or, as it was called, New South Wales) was meant to ...more
Mi piacciono i libri che hanno per tema viaggi, avventure per mare, scoperte, incontri (e spesso scontri) con culture diverse e sconosciute, ambientazioni per noi “esotiche”: alcuni esempi (fra le letture migliori) sono la “trilogia degli schiavi” di Hansen, la “trilogia di Haiti” di Bell, Il cimitero del Batavia di Dash, i saggi e i romanzi sulla conquista del Messico.
Anche questo saggio di Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore (pubblicato in Italia da Adelphi col titolo La riva fatale), ha per argome
I wish I could tell the author how much I appreciated the history he captured as well as his creative effort that shines through page after page. "The Fatal Shore" delivers precisely what the subtitle suggests: "the Epic of Australia's Founding."

The reader, like the convicts of the time, is "transported" to this land. The risks taken to begin white settlement were beyond comprehension - - perhaps like a decision today to colonize another planet. But there is more to the history of this place tha
Robin Hemley
An exhaustive account of Australia's founding, as advertised, Chock full of floggings and more floggings, then some cannibalism, and more floggings. Somehow, Hughes maintains a spry sense of humor throughout. One thing fascinating to me is how long it took for a history such as this to be written about Australia. As Bill Bryson says in his light-hearted account of the country, "Personally I think Australians ought to be extremely proud that from the most awkwardly unpropitious beginnings, in a r ...more
Dan Walker
"During those days men will seek death, but will not find it..." Rev. 9:6.

Robert Hughes does a brilliant job bringing Australia's penal colony history to life. And the conclusions drawn from this story will change everything you believe about crime, punishment, and the role of government.

For example, what caused England to be so overrun with the "criminal class?" Lack of economic opportunity, pure and simple. England's mercantilist economy simply could not provide a decent standard of living fo
Steve Bennett
My knowledge of Australia before reading this book: (1) My dad was stationed in Australia for much of WWII; (2) my dad's lifelong dream was to move to Australia and run a repair shop/hardware store; (3) my mom would not allow my dad to live his dream; (4) Shirley Collins' beautiful version of Van Dieman's Land (every one should own her No Roses album by the way)(and even more by the way, hearing the crystalline voice of Shirley Collins on The Power of the True Love Knot (particularly on vinyl) i ...more
This took me longer to read than any other book I've ever picked up. It's incredibly dense with information, which doesn't make it boring but does make it a slow read. The book is full of quotations from contemporary letters and documents that give a very real insight into life in Australia during its most notorious moments. In general the subject matter is fascinating: how convicts colonized a continent, under the cruel leadership of the British penal system. There are incredible stories of esc ...more
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Robert Studley Forrest Hughes, AO was an Australian art critic, writer and television documentary maker who has resided in New York since 1970. He was educated at St Ignatius' College, Riverview before going on to study arts and then architecture at the University of Sydney. At university, Hughes associated with the Sydney "Push" – a group of artists, writers, intellectuals and drinkers. Among the ...more
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